Violence went `unreported'

Jail: More than 200 reports of physical abuse against juveniles at the Victor Cullen Center were altered, destroyed or simply not filed.

November 25, 2001|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

For more than two years, employees at the Victor Cullen Center, one of the state's three largest juvenile jails, falsified documents to hide the number of assaults by guards against teens.

Juvenile justice investigator Peter Keefer concluded in an internal memo, written in September 2000 and obtained Tuesday by The Sun, that at least 229 reports were altered, destroyed or simply not filed.

"This would lead one to reasonably conclude that physical abuse occurred at Victor Cullen and went unreported," the memo stated.

Allegations of abuse are required to be filed with the departments of Juvenile Justice and Social Services and with the Maryland State Police.

When The Sun began examining conditions at the jails more than a year ago, it requested that the Department of Juvenile Justice provide documents - called "critical incident reports" - of all allegations of assaults committed by guards last year at the Frederick County facility and two other jails for juveniles, the Charles H. Hickey Jr. School in Baltimore County and the Cheltenham Youth Facility in Prince George's County.

After initially refusing to release the reports, the department began supplying the documents in the spring of this year. By June, juvenile justice officials said all of the requested documents had been provided to The Sun.

But two weeks ago, a Victor Cullen employee contacted the newspaper, saying that documents there had been altered and that many critical incident reports were not completed as required or were destroyed.

The Sun then obtained Keefer's report through state public records laws. The memo, stamped "confidential," covered February 1998 to October 1999.

Officials at Correctional Services Corp., the Florida-based private company that runs Victor Cullen, said an internal investigation determined that the deception continued until at least June 2000.

Paul Donnelly, senior vice president for the juvenile division of Correctional Services, said 11 employees "were no longer with the company" as a result of their involvement.

The company's $41 million, five-year contract at Victor Cullen expires in June. The company is paid $118 per youth, per day.

Correctional Services also has a $78.5 million, five-year contract to operate Hickey. That contract ends in March 2004.

Correctional Services is the nation's largest provider of juvenile programs for delinquents. It operates 29 facilities, according to company records, and has more than 4,100 juveniles in its care.

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